Visiting Halluin, France: Skyline Dominance and Ideological Polarities at a Border Town
A local 'Montmartre' of symbolism?
Perhaps partly because of the relatively (though not completely) flat Flemish landscape of the Lys Valley in which it is situated, the skyline of the French town of Halluin is dominated by the tower and spire of Saint-Hilaire church.
It might be thought that the physical dominance of the town's skyline by the 19th century Saint-Hilaire Gothic-style church (1) reflects an historic preponderance of influence of the Roman Catholic Church and its political supporters at varying levels.
This, however, is far from the case. Indeed, the spire of Saint-Hilaire more accurately represented an ideological polarity in the 20th century history of the town. Indeed, Halluin was for a long while known as Halluin la rouge — 'Halluin the Red', because of the very evident communistic leanings of its electorate (2).
In fact, the novelist Maxence Vander Meersch, in his work Quand les sirènes se taisent (When the sirens are quiet) (3), with worker strikes in the interwar years as a background, refers to Halluin as la ville sainte du communisme (the holy city of communism), such was the town's reputation.
The communist movement really began in France; its very name was derived from the 1871 revolutionary Commune centred on Montmartre, Paris. While today Montmartre is especially famous for the Sacré-Cœur Basilica built on it, in the days of the revolutionary Commune this famous structure had yet to be built.
But as regards the Saint-Hilaire tower and spire which so marks the Halluin skyline, this landmark was already present in the decades in the interwar years when Halluin was known as the communist French town par excellence. In a sense, the ideological conflicts in the town were thus made acutely visible by the skyline.
Interestingly — and especially since the end of the Cold War — the Halluin electorate has shown itself to be of a more distinctly conservative outlook; this pattern is not unusual in various parts of France. This being said, the communist leanings of Halluin pre-dated the Cold War, and indeed communism in France has been rooted in the strongly secularist ideology and experience of the French Revolution and its aftermath.
Halluin is situated in Lille arrondissement, in the Nord department of France, close to the Belgian border.
July 18, 2018
Saint-Hilaire church dates from 1857, the work of architect Charles Leroy (1816-1879).
(2) See also (in French) http://www.lavoixdunord.fr/archive/recup/region/mais-qui-a-invente-halluin-la-rouge-ia26b58805n2735772 This article relates how the often used phrase Halluin la rouge (see main text, above) has sometimes been wrongly attributed to novelist Émile Zola. The following work also uses this often used phrase as its title: Michel Hastings, Halluin la Rouge 1919-1939, Presses Univ. Septentrion, 1991
(3) Maxence Vander Meersch, Quand les sirènes se taisent, Albin Michel, 1933.
Also worth seeing
In Halluin itself, the striking town hall (Hôtel de Ville) on rue Marthe Nollet was formerly a private dwelling. The busiest shopping area of Halluin, also leading to the border with Belgium is on the rue de Lille. The Manoir aux loups (Wolves' manor) has a well-appointed arboretum. A 19th century windmill has been restored, which used to number one oamong five such structures in the town's vicinity.
Menen , Belgium (distance: 3.3 kilometres) has a noted Town Hall (Dutch: Stadhuis) with an octagonal tower, various parts of which date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Halluin (distance: 115 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company NMBS/SNCB maintains a service between Brussels and nearby Menen. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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